AIRPLANE: Tales from the Rez

 

We always had a menagerie of animals on the farm. Mostly dogs, dogs that idiots dumped in the desert and since we lived way out in no man’s land, it was inevitable that they would find their way to us, which was okay since we loved dogs. Stubby stands out because he was fearless when it came to snakes. Stubby was a terrier-mix with a stubby tail, hence his name. Then there was Sweet Nothing, a small dog also left in the desert because her people were morons. My sister named the little dog after Brenda Lee’s hit song Sweet Nothing. Sweet Nothin’ kept the farmyard in order. Bossy little thing but also a fearless dog. There were many other animals that watched us grow up. A few ewes and heifers (not the human ones), always a horse or two.

 

        Chickens were always with us. They provided us with eggs. We had a variety of them. All kinds, mainly hens. I remember a particular Sunday dinner that involved chicken. We wondered about the roasted chicken and asked Mama because we hadn’t seen a bunch of feathers floating around the place. Mama kept her answers vague and tried to steer the conversation away from the main course. Well, we eventually found out that the delicious chicken happened to be my brother’s hen. But that’s reality for a poor farming family. She wasn’t laying eggs anymore and we needed the food, so Mama roasted her and it was delicious. My brother called us cannibals and left the table but only after he had enjoyed a drumstick.

 

        And then there was Airplane and his tribe of honking bullies. Geese. Five in total. Quite honestly, I don’t recall if Airplane was a goose or gander but since Airplane was a terror, I’m pretty sure he was a gander since ganders are the more aggressive and boy, Airplane personified aggression. The entire gaggle was ferocious and not to be messed with. When visitors came they would wait in their vehicles if the geese were nearby, or they would honk for an escort. Truth. So why was Airplane so named? Because Airplane’s left wing was deformed. It did not fold all the way back and so when Airplane came running in attack mode at you, he resembled an airplane taking off.

 

        Geese are mean. Very protective and ours were territorial as well. When evening was nearing, we’d often see a coyote or two loping around in the desert across the road, waiting for darkness to fall so they could snap up one of our small dogs or a cat, maybe even a hen. One summer evening we (the twins and I) were sitting outside trying to cool off. The day had been blazing hot and Mama’s cooking had tripled the heat inside the already hot house. The gaggle of bullies were seen floating contentedly in the little ditch. Dad was irrigating so the ditch was full of water and the geese were in heaven. But, apparently, they were not oblivious to what was going on in the yard. A mother cat and her two kittens were sauntering across the yard, just minding their own business, when a coyote began slowly making its way out of the desert and approaching the road that separated the old homestead from the desert. We were watching it pretty closely and intending on intervening but we didn’t even need to leave our rickety church rejected metal folding chairs. No, when the coyote–which had to be desperate–crossed the road and entered our yard, out came the geese with Airplane leading the pack and you just knew they meant business. Hissing and vociferously honking up a storm, and scaring the heck out of the mama cat and her kittens, Airplane and the geese gang went flying to overtake the coyote. The coyote didn’t even take a second to think about running. It just did. Airplane and the gang chased it across the road then stopped to stare it down until it disappeared into the mesquite and cactus. Then they came marching back all proud like, still loudly communicating their outrage. We thought then that they were bragging about being the tough kids on the block. Well, farm. After they returned to the little ditch and water, we three looked at each other and busted out laughing. It’s one of the funniest childhood memories I have. Good old Airplane!

 

The photo is not of Airplane. I doubt anyone on the reservation owned a camera back then.